Nature has wreaked much devastation in the Asia-Pacific region over the last week. Typhoons, tidal waves and earthquakes have caused a lot of destruction and loss of life. For us, who live ensconced in our cosy flats and complain about ‘monotonous’ routines, these sudden reminders of the power of nature come as a rude shock. I see pictures and videos of people crushed under crumbling walls, wailing mothers trying to drag their children out from underneath mounds of debris, it doesn’t really make much of a difference to my life- the next moment, it’s all forgotten, because the Red Cross is probably already there, the UN must be sending out help, aid must have reached the suffering, and I’m deceiving my conscience, telling myself there is nothing I can really do.
On Wednesday, as an earthquake of magnitude 7.6 struck Padang, Indonesia, tremors were felt in Singapore as well. Our beds rocked, the wind chimes jangled madly, the heavy LCD monitors at office trembled on the walls- enough warning, so we could rush down into the open space by the block. There was nothing to fear, but those few minutes of scurrying told us enough about what cowards we actually were, how we feared for our lives. It should tell us something about how lucky we are, in reality, and how often the fact just slips past our minds, making not the least impression until a slight jolt shakes things into perspective.
There was fear, a sense of excitement, the usual traps of sensationalism and the eagerness to discuss it with everyone possible- as if we were ‘survivors’ who had come through an unimaginable disaster unscathed. And of course, at office the next day, there were people paying more attention to the earthquake than to their work. We never learn.
Over the past couple of weeks, though, there seems to have been a spurt in the number of natural disasters hitting Asia, and things don’t seem to be getting any better. Is this Nature’s way of reminding us of our responsibilities? Of pulling us out of our highly synthesized lives and reminding us what actual living is about, and what really matters?